Welcome to the third era of my life, which picks up where the second era ends:
On Christmas Eve, I found out that I was pregnant. I had no money or job, and my family was over 1,000 miles away. I was living with six or seven activists and a dog in a duplex under less-than sanitary conditions. I was receiving public assistance and had no idea what to do.
In early February 2002, I surrendered.
I honored my intention to live in absolute alignment with my values, and I forgave myself for failing to do so.
I allowed my family to take me in. I say “allowed” because while they wanted me to come home (they were not proponents of my lifestyle), I resisted giving up on my “dream.”
My parents ended up being incredibly supportive during this period of my life. And, the era that followed provided the impetus for incredible personal growth.
I lived with my parents in Montana for the next two years and worked at a natural foods market. I loved being surrounded by hippies and people who cared about the planet. The store manager was a middle-aged yogi named Laughing Water. I liked working for him because he had integrity, and I was promoted several times during my five-year tenure.
It wasn’t long before I met a guy who had been sober for nearly 20 years through a 12-step program. I still smile when I think of his friends – other recovering alcoholics – teasing me for abusing alcohol because I had a habit of leaving glasses of wine unfinished.
These guys were awesome. Some of their stories were mind-blowing and made my own rock bottoms look like cake walks. What really fascinated me, though, was how they radically turned their lives around, despite the odds. To say that I found their resilience inspiring is a gross understatement. I wanted what they had.
One weekend, I attended a recovery event and was introduced to a gal who was in a 12-step program for families and friends of alcoholics. I immediately joined.
12-step programs work best when you attend lots of meetings, engage in service with a “home group”, and work with a sponsor (mentor*) whose recovery inspires you. I worked with my sponsor for around seven years.
*Note that I’ll use the word “mentor” from here on out, as it’s a term more familiar to people who aren’t engaged in 12-step work, and as they have very similar meanings in this context.
Working with a mentor in a 12-step program can get really intense and invokes extreme feelings of vulnerability. But from my experience, the transformation is worth every vulnerable moment experienced and uncomfortable action taken.
In the end, the work I did with my mentor resulted in my ability to set firm boundaries (if you need help with this, check out this post), be okay with people not being okay with me, and cope with difficult situations (and people!) with dignity and grace. It also heightened my feelings of compassion, empathy, and gratitude towards everyone – including my “spiritual sandpaper.” And, it allowed me to see when I was being codependent or manipulative, which enabled me to choose a healthier response.
My mentor never judged my shadow side, and she helped me most by sharing her experience, strength, and hope during my times of struggle. Her storytelling and sharing what worked (and what didn’t) for her had an incredible impact on my recovery. This is why I share my own experience, strength, and hope with you here. It is what I know. And, it worked for me.
Starting over, again
I returned to college when Sage was five and graduated at the top of my class with a degree in economics. I then went on to graduate school to study applied economics. I was not prepared mathematically for the program, and while I completed all coursework and passed my core exam, I did not submit a thesis.
Nonetheless, I ended up getting an amazing gig in the Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning (aka The Budget Office) as a revenue and tax policy analyst. My job was to forecast oil and gas and other tax revenues for the Governor’s budget, estimate the impacts of legislation on revenues, and testify in legislative tax committee hearings. Except for the testifying part, I loved my job. I felt like I was helping people (tax revenues = money to spend on jobs) and I had great coworkers.
After reconnecting with my fourth grade crush and pursuing a long-distance relationship, I decided to relocate to the Chicago area in 2013. His family lived nearby, as did Sage’s father (who very much wanted her to move out there). It was a difficult decision, as it meant giving up my job and leaving my family and the mountains behind.
We faced a lot of uncertainty at this point. Despite months of hunting, neither of us had jobs waiting for us in Chicago, and our financial resources were limited. People close to me struggled to understand why I was doing what I was doing or how we were even going to get by.
Ultimately, it was about Sage. For the first 11 years of her life, she had only seen her father two to three times a year. Now, she wanted to be closer to him, and I wanted her to have that opportunity.
Experience, strength, & hope
During this era, I did a deep-dive into personal development and spiritual growth. I also began practicing radical self-care.
The thing about self-improvement is that oftentimes others aren’t on board with it. People don’t like change. It can feel threatening.
There came times when I faced some serious push-back and had to stand my ground on very wobbly legs. It was never easy. It takes a lot of inner work to respond to others’ raging, manipulating, and gas-lighting with detachment and non-reaction. But I learned how to do just that. And the results have been pretty incredible.
Doing what’s right for you may not always win you brownie points with others. Sponsors, mentors, or even friends who aren’t willing to cosign on your drama but instead respond objectively are great people to have around when you begin to stand your ground.
Calling on such help is one way to practice radical self-care. Other ways include honoring your needs, refusing to allow others’ toxicity to sway your position, and managing stress effectively. In the next and final “era” I’ll share with you what I do to manage stress (more) effectively. [Hint: it involves meditation and reflection.]
Era 4 of my life is about learning how to embrace extreme uncertainty, cultivate compassion during difficult times, and discover my life’s purpose. Click here to read round 4 of my experience, strength, and hope.